Friday, August 26, 2011

Venuti - the other side of monolingualism and domestication

What else can be done with translation in a foreign timbre? It can expand the expressiveness of your own native tongue. I was surprised by Venuti's description of the history of Frederick the Great - that he wrote his best work in French because German was scarcely a language for the elite in Prussia.  French was dominant.  Translating the foreign into German in a form that is not conforming to the host language thus results in extending the flexibility of the host language.  Translation into German allowed the formation of a German nation. Most of Venuti's quotes are Schleiermacher being quoted by several other authors - difficult to summarize.

But here it is: the translator can extend the flexibility of the host language by allowing foreign elements in the guest language to stand in translation, in this way the translator brings the reader on a slightly foreign journey. This results in growing the nationalist language and is seen as valuable when that language is weak or dominated by another culture. Or the translator can domesticate the foreign elements of the guest language. This is more likely to happen when the host language is already dominant. But it will lose more than it gains in this case. In either case it seems that nationalism and parochialism were the motivation - hardly a desirable outcome. I think when it comes to translation of the Bible, if there is any destabilizing truth in it, the opposite effect should be desirable: a third way.

This is what I was getting at in a comment I made recently to Kurk Gayle:
Translation must extend the scope of the reader, breaking the reader out of monolingual culture, comfortable pew, complacent acceptance of status quo etc. To the extent that translation of the Gospel assimilates into a culture foreign to Itself, It will undermine, transform, and reframe those cultural complacencies so that the subject is rebirthed and self translated into a new place. So my own assumptions and fears are reworked - and I think there is some benefit even to those who think they are far from God or Gospel. Why else the positive aspects of Western culture - freedom, openness, tolerance, care for the prisoner and orphan. But these are lights in many cultures and themselves need the invisible and unspeakable foundation. (Which all have or none would live at all - but the Gospel should make it easier to express - though not to understand or explain.)
Now I would add for a weak language, that translation should strengthen it but not for nationalistic purposes. It appears that in the area of theology German has extended itself considerably in the last 250 years. I don't think the French have done as well since Napoleon.  But I can't say that history has been anything but disappointing when it comes to nationalism.

So the question is - to what extent do we impose the old song by translating, and to what extent do we help teach a new song?